Writing is developed when the ideas are explained in sufficient detail. You need to show that you have thought about the topic and that you have something meaningful to say. Paragraphs that lack development often sound too general or are redundant.
You can develop a paragraph by adding supporting sentences. Supporting sentences can give examples, explanations, details, descriptions, facts, reasons, etc. Which types of supporting sentences you use will depend on your topic. In researched essays, using and explaining sources can also help you develop your ideas.
Compare the examples below. The first body paragraph is not developed well. The ideas are repeated and there are no solid examples, details, reasons, etc. Find the supporting sentences in the revised version that help develop the ideas.
Example 1: Body Paragraph (Little development)
Helen Keller wanted to learn how to speak, so she started to take speech classes. Helen could learned to speak. She also continuously worked on enhancing her math, French, German, and Geography. She attended more school. Ann Sullivan attended every class with Helen and interpreted the lectures and books for her. By the time she was sixteen, Keller got the acceptance from Radcliffe College. She graduated from the college with honors.
Example 2: Body Paragraph (Better development)
Helen Keller had strong desire to learn how to speak so that she could interact with others, so in 1890 she started to take speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. Thanks to her dedication to hard work and practice, Helen learned speak well enough for people to understand. From 1894 to 1896, she continuously made an effort to enhance not only her math, French, German, and Geography, but also her communication with others by attending the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. Through her diligent preparation, she went to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. During her school life, Ann Sullivan attended every class with Helen and interpreted the lectures and the textbooks for her. By the time she was sixteen, Keller was accepted into Radcliffe College. Owing to the persistent assistance of Anne Sullivan interpreting the lectures and the textbooks throughout Keller’s college days, Helen Keller graduated from the college with honors.
The first example paragraph had poor development because the ideas stopped too soon. The did not include many specific details about Helen Keller's life. Because the ideas in the 1st paragraph stop too soon and didn't give enough information, the reader is confused about the main idea.
The revised body paragraph has better development. It gives lots of examples and relevant details. It makes sure to connect all of the ideas to the topic sentence.
Problems with Development
Two common problems with development are
- the obvious lack of development due to missing details
- the less obvious lack of development due to off-topic details.
The first may be thought of as a matter of quantity; there is not a variety of details to explain the main idea. The second may be thought of as a matter of quality; the details written don't actually support the main idea.
The first problem is easy to see when you look at a paragraph. The paragraph itself may be smaller or shorter because there just aren't any supporting sentences written. Or, the paragraph may look long visually, but the sentences just repeat the same idea over and over, so there is actually only one or two supporting details instead of many. The reader can't understand the main idea well because the supporting details that would explain it are so limited.
The second problem might be more difficult to see because when you look at the paragraph, it visually looks full. It seems like there are many details supporting the main idea. However, many of the sentences aren't actually about the main idea, so they don't count. The reader can't understand the main idea well, because there aren't really that many details explaining it. Once you get rid of the off-topic sentences, you may notice that you don't have many sentences with on-topic sentences left. This brings you back to problem 1: not having enough development.
See the flow chart below for more about these problems.
Image: Barraza 2022
You can revise a paragraph that lacks development by adding supporting sentences. In order to know what supporting details the reader needs to understand your main idea, you can ask developing questions. Developing questions are questions that help you think like a reader to find where to add support.
You can start revising a paragraph by asking questions about the topic sentence (or the other supporting sentences). Ask questions like "Why?" "Like what?" and "How?" The answers to these questions can give you ideas to include that will develop your paragraph.
In order to revise the paragraph, the author might have asked questions like the ones below.
Sentence Being Considered: Helen Keller wanted to learn how to speak, so she started to take speech classes.
- Question: What does that mean?
- Answer: That means that learning to speak was not easy for Helen Keller
- Question: When did this happen?
- Question: Where did she take classes?
- Question: What was the name of the school?
- Answer: The Horace Mann School for the Deaf
Exercise 1: Discussion
After reading the 2 examples about Helen Keller, discuss the following questions with a partner.
- What do you feel as a reader when you read the 1st example?
- What questions do you have as a reader when you read the 1st example?
- Why does the 2nd example have better development?
Exercise 2: Ask questions to generate supporting sentences
Write questions about this topic sentence or the answers to the questions you write.
Topic sentence: Jane Austen became an iconic author that influenced in other lives of many women and their place in English society.